The People of Gibraltar
1462 - Gibraltar - The Spanish Fortress - Part 5
The Northern Defences

The only easy land access to Gibraltar was across the sandy area the stretched northwards from the North Front of the Rock.

This low lying access was over white sand which stretched from the Spanish frontier to the British one - it was known mainly by the British as The Neutral Ground    (1870s - Unknown) 

This is how Barrantes Maldonado (see LINK) described it in the 16th century.
Gibraltar sticks out into the sea from a peninsula towards a very steep and notable mountain range and nobody can enter Gibraltar other than through that stretch of land which is no wider than the distance travelled by the bolt of a crossbow and on each side one can find the sea.
It was therefore in this area that the various engineers as well as the local council concentrated upon in order to improve it by modernising its defence. The round towered northern walls of la Barcina were slowly transformed over a lengthy period until it was replaced by another “modern style wall by 1625 which was given the name of la Muralla de San Bernardo. After the British take-over it became known as the Grand Battery.

St Bernard of Clairvaux - Patron saint of Gibraltar - The Muslims finally relinquished the place to the Christians on the 20th of August - The feast day of St Bernard.

A view of the Moorish Castle from the Grand Battery     (Unknown - early 20th century)

Bottom right - to its left is a dry moat (el fosso) and at the far end, a bridge over it to the northern entrance of Landport Gate, la Puerta de Tierra. Anybody trying to enter the Rock via a stroll up the western beach of the isthmus would have to find an answer to this   

Plan of the Grand Battery - on the right el Baluarte de San Pablo converted into North Bastion    (1770s - William Green)

Given its importance as regards the defence of Gibraltar it is hardly surprising that just about every engineer who ever set foot on the Rock participated in its metamorphosis. It was only after the start of the mid 16th century that Juan Bautista Calvi, el Fratino, and Tiburcio Spannocchi began to criticise the work of their predecessors. 

However, given the huge investment in money and resources which had already been spent on the project it proved impossible to put into practice any new proposals and the San Fernando was finished without any being incorporated. 

Anton Wyngaerde (1567)

This is perhaps the most detailed and historically interesting of all the smaller sketches produced by Wyngaerde. The panorama faces south from an imaginary viewpoint. The Moorish castle is shown with a cross and the usual reference to Enrique’s celebrated bones. 

The defensive walls and towers of the Castle quasbah or enclosure face north and within them is what appears to be a high platform sporting a couple of canons.  The walls continue downwards to la Puerta de Granada - a gate which no longer exists - followed by a second one - la Puerta de Tierra - today’s Landport Gate. 

Further to the right there are three towers followed by the recently constructed Baluarte de San Pablo also surmounted by several canons. Further along one can make out a beach and la  Puerta de Mar or Waterport (see LINK) protected by towers on either side. The composition is slightly askew as from this angle the Baluarte de San Pablo would have hidden both the beach and la Puerta de Mar - the entrance to the town from the sea. 

On the extreme bottom left on the beach which led to the isthmus, a lime kiln is identified as an horno de cal. A breakwater to the north of the defensive wall is as shown on Wyngaerde’s main Bay plan but perhaps surprisingly there is - again - no sign of a proper Mole. 

Following the wall from the Castle on the top left to the sea bottom right one can see that the bottom round flanking towers are in sharp contrast with the square ones of the rest of the Wall. The intervention of Bravo de Acuña was decisive in this respect. He insisted that something had to done given the weakness of that part of the wall that gave on to the moat of la Puerta de Tierra.

In accordance with military ideas developed during the renaissance, the parapet walk was notably widened in order to allow for easier movement of artillery pieces, their placement and firing as well allowing less crowded access to their positions by soldiers from the town.

On the left the Barcina area identifying the Curtain ofSaint Bernard” - the Grand Battery - as “B” more or less as inherited by the Anglo-Dutch forces in 1704  (Col D’Harcourt) and as visualised by Bravo de Acuña (1627)

The work nevertheless had to be carried out taking into consideration the demands of the inhabitants of La Barcina, as it would be necessary to demolish those houses next to the wall in order to remodel the place. They were never demolished and the enlargement was carried out on the outer or northern side. The northern defences were finished off by the shores of the sea with a bastion known variously as el Baluarte del Canuto, Cañuto, San Sebastián or San Pablo - the last being the one most commonly used.

Baluarte del Canuto best known as el Baluarte de San Pablo      (c1608 - Cristobál Rojas )

The caption more or less reads as follows:
“Profile of the drop from calahorra tower up to the point of the Baluarte del Canuto ( San Bernardo) - In this profile one can appreciate the difficulties that exist  for the artillery in the casemates that tibulcia (Tiburcio Spannochi) had built would not be able to defend the curtain that exists between the two bastions, neither that of the Baluarte del Canuto nor the casemates would be able to defend either  the curtain or the middle front. It would find itself beneath the Salto del Lobo and its defensive line would be too lengthy - or nearly nine hundred feet.”
(San Pablo) was constructed over a medieval tower during the mid 16th century and changed the general appearance of the defences which had been established in the 14th by Ferdinand IV, the Marinids or both. 

Despite its quadrangular shape - more appropriate to an older style of bastion - its other characteristics suggest that this was the first modern artillery platform constructed in Gibraltar. Its large surface area allowed the much more manoeuvrable cannons of the 16th century to be moved easily into place than was possible in the past. It was now possible to adjust the guns to point upwards or downwards making it easier to aim them and their wheeled carriages allowed them to be easily transported and placed in different positions.

The bastion’s critical north-eastern position increased the strength of this section of the defences as did its sloping walls and massive structure influenced by modern Italian constructions.  In other words it is easy to see the influence of Italian engineers and the creation of fortifications which are different to those that had been developed by the Spanish since the days of the Reconquista.

Known as the “transition style” the work seems to have been part of a general project ordered by the emperor in the 1540s to improve the northern defences. Micer Benedito, Baltazar Paduano Avianelo as well as Álvaro de Bazán were all involved. In other words the very best engineers employed by the Spanish Crown - all of them Italian - all came to Gibraltar - a long list of well known names headed by the two mentioned above, both of whom had worked in the construction of the formidable castle of Salsas or Salces in Rosellon during 1534 and 1540.

The Castle at Salces

They proposed changes to the medieval fortifications in a style which they had suggested for the Spanish frontier with France although they were against the idea of low fortifications or moats as had been applied originally by Ramiro López. There have also been unconfirmed suggestions that the engineer Daniel Speckle had also been involved in the work on the defences of Gibraltar.

A typical page from Daniel Speckle’s influential book - The Architecture of Fortresses

The reduction in height of the Baluarte de San Pablo appeared to hide its silhouette, reducing the effect of enemy artillery as did its sloping walls which increased its massive appearance and allowed it to deal with the impacts of enemy fire. 

(1608 - Cristóbal Rojas)